Vermeer's The Concert

Vermeer's The Concert

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Stolen Art Watch, Cezanne Lawyer, Seven Years !!

Former lawyer, 74, sentenced to 7 years in stolen art case

A retired Watertown lawyer was sentenced to seven years in federal prison yesterday for possessing six Impressionist paintings that he knew were stolen in 1978 from a house in the Berkshires in what is believed to be the largest private art theft in Massachusetts history.

US District Court Chief Judge Mark L. Wolf acknowledged that Robert M. Mardirosian, a 74-year-old former criminal defense lawyer, has been diagnosed as suffering from early-stage dementia and said prison will be hard on him. But Wolf said it was crucial to send a message to other lawyers to resist the temptations of crime.

"The only reason I'm sentencing a 74-year-old man in the early stages of dementia is because you were calculating enough to get away with this for 30 years," he said in a firm voice, facing the silver-haired, mustachioed defendant.

"You started as a lawyer," Wolf said. "As far I'm concerned, you became a glorified fence."

The judge did, however, reserve judgment on whether he will release Mardirosian from the Donald W. Wyatt Detention Facility in Rhode Island pending an appeal his lawyer plans to file. Wolf said he will rule on that shortly.

The sentence was less than the 10 years in prison recommended by Assistant US Attorney Jonathan F. Mitchell, but much harsher than the recommendation of Mardirosian's lawyer, Jeanne M. Kempthorne, of Salem. She asked Wolf to sentence Mardirosian to two years in home confinement, saying her client would probably not survive a long prison term.

A federal jury convicted Mardirosian on Aug. 18 of taking six Impressionist paintings that had allegedly been stolen by one of his clients from the Stockbridge house of Michael Bakwin and storing them in Europe. Mardirosian's client, David Colvin, of Pittsfield, also stole a seventh painting, a Cezanne piece called "Bouilloire et Fruits," that Mardirosian kept for two decades before it was returned in 1999 to Bakwin, who auctioned it off at Sotheby's for $29.3 million.

Colvin was shot to death in 1979. Mardirosian told the Globe in 2006 that he stumbled upon the paintings in 1980 in his office loft, where Colvin had once spent a night when he visited the lawyer to discuss another case.

Rather than return the paintings, authorities said, Mardirosian stored them in Switzerland. In 1999, using a shell company and lawyers, Mardirosian returned the Cezanne to Bakwin in exchange for title to the six other paintings, which were far less valuable. Bakwin testified at Mardirosian's trial that he considered the agreement extortion, but that he wanted the Cezanne back.

In 2005, Mardirosian, through an intermediary, had four of the other six stolen paintings transferred from Geneva to Sotheby's London auction house in preparation for a sale, authorities said. The estimated market value of the paintings ranged from $70,000 to $500,000 each, according to the indictment.

But in May 2005, Bakwin, with the help of the Art Loss Register, sued Sotheby's in a London court to halt the sale. The suit and the public disclosure of Mardirosian's name in connection with the paintings prompted the federal investigation that culminated with his surrender last year.

Bakwin recovered the four paintings that were scheduled to be auctioned in London. Wolf ordered yesterday that the two paintings that had remained in Switzerland and have been in the hands of US authorities be returned to Bakwin, pending the outcome of Mardirosian's appeal.

Art Hostage comments:

Now, lets not get this former Lawyer confused with a Lawyer trying to negotiate the return of stolen art for a client.

This Lawyer, fearing the mean spirited nature of the owner not paying a substantial figure for his stolen art back, thought he could scam his way to a reward for returning these stolen artworks.

This man should be treated like any criminal trying to ransom back stolen art.

However, if a Lawyer is approached by a middleman who wants to return stolen art via the Lawyer, then this is a different matter.

As long as the middleman can establish he has had nothing to do with the original theft or subsequent handling of the said stolen artwork, and he and his Lawyer negotiate with the Police and Prosecutors who are investigating the original theft, they can reach a lawful agreement which sees the art returned and reward paid in full. This will normally involve a sting wherby someone gets arrested and the middleman will always have to re-locate after it is exposed he has informed.

You notice I do not say negotiate with any Art Loss Adjuster or any former police, why, because they do not have any control over reward payments being paid.

For any lawful reward payment there needs to be permission granted by Police as well as Prosecutors.

Anyone offering to pay a reward without the express permission of investigating Police and Prosecutors is lying through their teeth, unless they are prepared to break the law and pay a reward without any Police and Prosecutors permission.

Upon another note, the final accused, Rob Meeson, above, in the Frans Hals case held in custody has been released from jail today on bail and it is now to March 2009 when the case comes to court.

Funny thing, Rob Meeson applied for bail weeks ago and was successful, but prosecutors appealed and the accused was jailed again, only to be released today on the orders of a judge.

So, March 2009 will prove to be a watershed with two important stolen art recovery cases coming to court and will provide clarity on the rules governing recovering stolen art.


Mark said...

This case illustrates that any person, no matter what their background, can be lured in by the Siren song of art crime. Do you agree or disagree with my recent post in regard to an increase in art crime on or around holidays, specifically New Year's?

Anonymous said...

Art Hostage says,

The Siren song of art crime aslo affects those investigating art crime and leads some of them to act unlawfully.

The intoxicating nature of high profile art theft also makes one wonder who are the good guys and who are the bad guys.

A case of the Foxes guarding the Hen House.

The pursuit of big reward payments for art crime investigastors makes them act in a dishonest manner that leaves those with information with neither reward or protection.

Art thieves are oppotunists and as holidays are a transient period they seize on this. People away from their homes also gives art thieves a window of oppotunity.

However, don't think for one moment art thieves only act during holidays, they act when they get the chance.